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When a parent seems very unwell

When a parent seems very unwell, it is crucial to listen, take the matter seriously and act to ensure the safety of any child in the parent’s care, and the safety of the parent themselves.

Notice a parent’s symptoms or behaviours. If practitioners are having trouble talking to a parent, notice their symptoms and behaviour. Do they seem different to when you last met? Sad? Confused? Angry?

Tell the parent about the worries about them and that Child Safety is there to help them. ‘I’m really worried about you and I’d like to help’  or ‘I’ve noticed some differences about you lately and I’m just wondering how you are?’

Let the parent talk. Encourage them to express their feelings. This may provide some relief by giving the parent an opportunity to talk about how they are.

Take the parent seriously. Do not try to minimise their experiences. Use language to show what is happening to them and how much it is affecting them is being seen and heard: ‘I can see this is really worrying for you’ and ‘I can see you are feeling very low right now.’

Consider whether to go ahead with your planned conversation. Attempts to try to have difficult conversations with a parent who is very unwell, might not go very far.  If the conversation is a difficult one, it may cause additional stress and this could exacerbate their illness or symptoms. It may be prudent to delay and attend to the immediate worries.

Make sure the child is safe. Think about how the child is experiencing their parent’s behaviour. Use knowledge and skill to ensure safety for the child.

Focus on safety for the parent, family and yourself. Focus on the immediate safety and wellbeing of the parent and everyone around them. Contact community mental health or emergency services when worried.

Take steps to keep yourself calm. It is natural to feel nervous and fearful for the parent, their child and, at times, for practitioner safety. Leave immediately if the situation is escalating or becomes unsafe. If required, call for help from the team supervisor and seek further direction to ensure the safety of the child and parent.

Attention

Get help for the parent. If a parent is presenting as acutely unwell and appears to be experiencing symptoms of psychosis, is expressing suicidal thoughts or plans, is threatening self-harm or is harming themselves, call the appropriate health professionals immediately. In an emergency, dial Triple Zero (000) and ask for the Queensland Ambulance Service.

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